The panel “Can Citizens Overthrow Illiberal Regimes?” held in Zagreb

Croatian Platform for International Civic Solidarity CROSOL, Solidarna – Foundation for Human Rights and Solidarity and Human Rights House Zagreb last Saturday, on December the 7th in Dokukino KIC held a panel called “Can citizens overthrow illiberal regimes – experiences of Romania and Croatia” with the screening of the documentary film “O lijepa, o draga o slatka slobodo” as part of the 17th Human Rights Film Festival.

Speakers at the panel were Antoniu Bumb, a digital communications expert at the Romanian Declic association active in anti-corruption protests; Tihomir Ponoš, journalist specialized in human rights topics, civil society, contemporary history and internal politics, and Gordan Bosanac, author of the screened film, communication expert and CROSOL external associate. The discussion was moderated by Marina Škrabalo, a peace activist and the head of the Solidarna Foundation.

The first part of the panel was designated to the definition of the term illiberal democracy – a model of government in which democracy is reduced only to multilateralism and elections, and all its controlling mechanisms such as independent media, critical civil society, independent culture, independent institutions and the judiciary is placed under governments’ control. Speakers cited historical examples from the last century, but also repeated the patterns of suppression of democracy and its vital organs by recent events in EU Member States, such as Hungary, Poland and Croatia in 2016.

In the second part of the panel, Romanian guest Antoniu Bumb introduced the work model of the Declic organization, which gathers over 500,000 active members, organizes weekly petitions and mobilizes all its members through successful digital communication. The result of such work – after months of protests in Bucharest in which citizens protested against corruption and controversial judicial reforms conducted by the local government, as well as mass protests against police, the judiciary and government, along with scandals involving some of the leading politicians in the country, a month ago, the government in the Romanian parliament was overthrown.

After the panel, organizers held a screening of a documentary film by Gordan Bosanac, produced by the Human Rights House Zagreb, which focuses on the aforementioned 2016, when the coalition government tried to turn Croatia into a model of illiberal democracy. Through documenting numerous civic actions and initiatives and conversations with activists of the time, the film discusses how radical right-wing associations and politicians tried to turn Croatia into an illiberal regime through various forms of attack on independent media, critical civil society, independent culture and independent institutions. Even more importantly, the film showed how citizens, civil society, independent media and independent institutions managed to put an end to it.